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Blog War on the Wrath of God

By Dr. Gene Edward Veith

I got into a blog war over the meaning of Hurricane Katrina.

I was asked to be part of Zeitgeist,World Magazine’s sub-blog, in which different writers carry on conversations with each other. One of the writers insisted that Hurricane Katrina—as well as other natural disasters—should be seen as expressions of the wrath of God.

He said that the Bible gives many examples of God zapping individuals, cities, and nations for their sins. The writer, a well-known Reformed pastor, said that while it is not politically correct to say so, God used Hurricane Katrina to judge New Orleans—which used to be affectionately known as “Sin City” before Las Vegas competed for that title—and the United States as a whole, which, he said, has become so sinful it may well be considered the “Babylon” of biblical prophecy.

I came back with the point that Jesus Christ Himself tells us exactly how we should consider such catastrophes:

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? ‘No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1–5).

So, I said, the point and the application are clear. No, the people in New Orleans were not being punished because they were any more wicked than anyone else. And yet, the message to each of us in our own sin cities is to repent.

Horrible disasters like Hurricane Katrina show us the fallenness of nature. We also see how thin the veneer of civil righteousness is, how when the external controls of the government and the first use of the law are taken away, our sinful nature breaks out in pillaging, raping, shooting at rescue helicopters, doctors killing their patients, and nursing home employees running to save their hides while letting the old people drown in their beds. We should realize that we, in similar circumstances, might very well act in the same way. The wages of sin are death, and everybody is going to get paid. So any example of death or the horrors that cause death should provoke us to repent.

My blogging adversary didn’t really answer my Bible verses. Instead, he said that the reason for our disagreement was a “mindset.” He said that he thinks of God in terms of His judgment and His wrath against sin. We really do not understand God until we grasp how much He hates sin and the terrible quality of His vengeance against unrighteousness. My fellow blogger lamented how so many people tame, domesticate, and make God nice. He confessed that in his mind, the wrath of God is always before him.

I actually agreed on the reality of God’s wrath, that disasters should make us repent, and that our differences were a matter of mindset. I said that the Lutheran mindset refuses to think of God apart from Christ. The other blogger is always contemplating God directly, lauding His glory, speculating about Him, and sa ying how scary He is. But, as Luther warned, we dare not presume to approach or even think about God apart from a mediator.

So, in the Lutheran mindset, when we think of God’s wrath, we immediately bring Christ into the picture. The target of God’s wrath is Christ—not us, not the hurricane victims, not those the Tower of Siloam fell on, not the whole sinful mess of humanity—Jesus on the cross, bearing in His body the sin of the world and experiencing God’s judgment against that sin, so that we can experience instead His grace and mercy.

We must not think of God and His wrath apart from Christ, the wrath-bearer. And when we think of Christ, we must remember how He is hidden in our neighbors in need, that “as you did it to one of the least of these my br others, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). That would include the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Gene Edward Veith is the cultural editor for WORLD magazine, the Director of the Cranach Institute, and a contributing editor for Higher Things.